Maathai Interview (Part 1 of 2)
Maathai/ My current issues are basically the same I have been concerned about all my life, because they just seem not to disappear. Mostly human rights issues. Just when you think you have overcome, they come back in a different way. Right now in Kenya we are really almost reliving what we thought we had escaped, especially violation of human rights and almost a state tolerance to extrajudicial killings of people they think are “bad people.” But our Lord does not allow anybody to kill anybody just because they think they are “bad”. So that area just never seems to go away.
In America, I suspect we take many human rights for granted even while they may seem very generous to others.
Yes, it’s very much about the basic freedoms, freedom of speech, of access to information, of sharing information. In the past it was very difficult for Kenya to have different television stations, different newspapers, different radio stations. We broke that finally and we managed to open up that access to information. Now we have more radio stations than we can listen to.
But in many other countries, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression quite often is not there. The freedom of expression is the one most often infringed upon, both physically but especially by instilling fear in people so that they do not express themselves.
You mean the fear is unseen?
Yes, and that is what the state likes, then people censor themselves.
Freedom of religion is something we cherish, but even that can be most contentious.
Religion is extremely important and we know that Africans are expressing very intense religious experiences at the moment, whether they are doing so by becoming Muslims, which is expanding very fast, or whether they are doing so as Christians, which is also expanding very fast. They are very religious and what one wants to see is religion that is not used, as Karl Marx would have said, as an opiate to silence the people, to make the people accepting that whatever is there is God’s will and that they should not challenge it. When religion is used that way, then religion becomes a destructive force.
But when religion is used to empower, to inspire, to give people hope, to give people energy to do things, then of course it can be a very powerful force.
Still, religion is often a dividing rather than a uniting force.
Yes, religious people enjoy power, they don’t want to admit it, but they enjoy power. And power can be very corrupting because you can decide that whatever it takes to have that power, you will use. I am sure there are people who enjoy that power of religion and that position they enjoy, a position that almost forbids challenge. So that nobody comes to tell you “I don’t think what you are saying is right.” We don’t see too many Martin Luther at the moment.
Last year, Kenya had a very dividing experience after the election. One of the facts was that religions were split. Just as the country’s leaders were split, so too were religious leaders who tended to support the candidate from their community rather than support the candidate they thought who was best for the country, or for the values they hold. You would think religious leaders would be above the politics and say this candidate is the best… After the violence, religious leaders felt so bad they apologized to the public.
Religion can be a very powerful force but it can also divide. Religious leaders can influence people much more than the politicians because they claim they are speaking in God’s name. If they are, it is very difficult to go to God and ask him “Did you really say this?”
End Part 1